The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region packs a whole lot into a relatively small area: from soaring skyscrapers and sandy beaches to towering peaks and tranquil parks. Most visitors come to marvel at the futuristic skyline of the city centre, where there are thousands of excellent places to stay. Visitors staying in the Pearl of the Orient can also enjoy one of the city’s quieter districts, or even out in the countryside, making use of the regions excellent public transport system. The region is broadly divided into 4 areas, each with its own charming character and role to play in the city’s fascinating history.
Hong Kong Island
This is where the iconic images of busy streets, rickshaw-taxis and skyscrapers originate from. Hong Kong Island, particularly the North Shore area, is at the heart of the region in every sense of the word; home to the central district and all of the best nightlife, restaurants and more that Hong Kong has to offer. The island is further divided into districts; although the city is mostly packed into the western half; with most of the highlights in close proximity to each other and well connected by the brilliant Mass Transit System. Look for a place in the central district if you really want to be at the centre of everything, but you can expect to pay a premium price for anything in this area. SoHo is the place to be for night owls or foodies, and some fantastic places to stay can be found in the mostly residential mid-levels district, at the top of the world’s longest escalator. Visitors looking for a little more space, or the best views, could head up Victoria Peak; or a little further out to one of the island’s country parks. Although the high rise buildings are beginning to spread across to the south side of the island; the area around Aberdeen Fishing Village is a great place to experience the local’s way of life outside the big city.
Across the bay from Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon side offers big city lights, fascinating street markets day & night, brilliant nightlife and the best views across the bay to Hong Kong Island’s magnificent skyline. Tsim Sha Tsui is the central area of Kowloon which most visitors flock to; and although many now think of it as a tourist trap, and some local’s will tell you to avoid this area, there is still an excellent art museum here, and Nathan Road is one of the region’s top shopping destinations, rivalled only by Causeway Bay over on the island. Yaumatei is a good option for those who want to escape the heavily tourist oriented Tsim Sha Tsui. This district is one of the best for authentic Chinese character, with jade markets, local food markets and beautiful temples. The bustling industrial district of Mongkok is the best location for markets and some great deals on accommodation can be found here, if you can handle the crowds! Kowloon is connected to Hong Kong Island via the Mass Transit System, and the hundred year old Star Ferry still makes the journey across the bay packed with tourists and commuters – look out for the light show every evening at 8.
The New Territories
As Hong Kong’s population continues to grow, the city has expanded further into the mainland; with high rise towers seeming to pop up overnight and formerly peaceful villages converted into vast conurbations that stretch for miles. Much of the new territories land is too mountainous to build on, and here you can get a taste of the region’s history, with trails leading around ancient walled villages, built to keep out bandits and robbers, and other temples and monuments. Many of the villages in the new territories are well connected with Kowloon and Hong Kong Island via the Mass Transit System, staying out in one of the quieter villages can feel very refreshing after a day in the city centre. The larger settlements are generally not the prettiest places to stay, although it can be interesting to get a perspective on how the vast majority of Hong Kongers live.
In total, Hong Kong is made up of 235 islands, scattered across a wide region of of the South China Sea. Although some islands are beginning to develop into extensions of Hong Kong’s mega city, many are still completely uninhabited, whilst others are sparsely populated by fishing communities. The largest, and most developed of the Outlying Islands is Lantau; where Hong Kong’s Disney Resort is located, as well as the famous Ngong Ping 360 centre. Despite these major attractions, other parts of the island still retain their local charm and offer some great accommodation with idyllic beaches nearby and excellent views over to Hong Kong Island Skyline. Peng Chau and Lamma Island are the other likely options for visitors looking to stay in the Outlying Islands, both of these are well removed from the main tourist sights and the beaten track for most westerners; with local seafood restaurants and gorgeous beaches, still easily accessible to the city. The other smaller islands are best accessed via a boat cruise.
(header image: Photo by Tama Leaver via FlickrCC)